Telecom company Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) recently carried out the first cross-border drone flight in which the drone was connected to the pilot via 5G. To this end, the drone was equipped with 2 SIM cards. The drone rose up in Latvia and landed a few kilometers away in Estonia. Switching from one network to another at the border only took a few milliseconds.

The beyond

visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone flight was conducted during the LAMPA Conversation Festival as part of a session on the future use of drones. The drone had two SIM cards on board: one was connected to the Latvian mobile network and the other was connected to that of Estonia. The setup ensured a smooth transition from one network to another, which took a few milliseconds.

The demonstration was streamed live from the drone, switching to the image from a tracking drone, the mission planning, and a recording of a director of the telecom company who explained the flight. The team used the UgCS ground control software to control the drone, along with a custom command and control modem that was built with the help of Latvian software company SPH Engineering.

Rail inspection as the first use case

The flight was a first step to investigate the possibilities of drones in combination with a stable 5G connection. One of the first use cases LMT investigates concerns the applicability for Rail Baltica, a railway system that spans several countries and would benefit greatly from drone inspections.

LMT’s Ingmars Pukis sees many possibilities for long distance drone flights in combination with 5G: “Currently, most drone solutions are based on Wi-Fi connections or other frequencies. Unlike the mobile network, those are limited in their reach. Provided there is sufficient coverage, the mobile network can ensure uninterrupted connectivity throughout the flight, which significantly improves safety.”

Increasing safety

Ilmārs Ozols, head of the drone department of the Latvian aviation authority: “Cooperation between the public and private sectors is crucial when it comes to creating new services, ensuring flight safety. When performing flights out of sight, it is important to avoid other objects both in the air and on the ground. An essential part is identification, in order to be able to track the drone and warn of possible threats in the environment. Thanks to various mitigating measures, we were able to allow this experiment, which brings new possibilities when it comes to cross-border drone flights.”